Fixed priorities for proud Briton Pip Hare on upcoming Transat Jacques Vabre Normandie Le Havre

British solo skipper Pip Hare had a pretty solid 2022 season, her first with her new fully foiling, recent generation Medallia, finishing 13th in the solo Vendée Arctic race and 12th in the solo Route du Rhum. Since then she has completed a major refit of the VPLP/Verdier design which started life as the 2016-17 Vendée Globe winner Banque Populaire. A remodelled, slightly more rounded bow, big, new generation foils and changes to the ballast system have significantly improved the all-round performance of the boat, but for that Hare has paid something of a price in terms of her boat being out of action until early summer. Problems in the heinous conditions at the start of the Fastnet race left her and co-skipper Nick Bubb trying to catch up with the body of the IMOCA fleet.

As she lines up in Le Havre for what will be her third Transat Jacques Vabre, her focus – like almost all of her rivals – is primarily on finishing this race and the Retour à la Base which starts about 7-10 days after the finish into Martinque. Both races are essential qualifiers to make the 40 boat cut for the next Vendée Globe.

Hare is certainly older and wiser than when she started – and finished – the 2020-21 Vendée Globe but no less effervescent, good humoured and passionate, not least about being based in Britain. 

Less then six days to go to the start Pip, how do you feel? 
I am oddly calm. I am learning. At this point on the Route du Rhum a year ago I was in pieces. I just could not handle all the buzz, the pzazz. This actually feels less intense than the Route du Rhum and I think the fact that the layout is different, you can dip in and out of the village, helps. And also although I need to be here, I am doing half days. We are a small team so I need to be here. I am staying in Honfleur and yesterday I did a 20k run in the afternoon and all that helps. And Honfleur is beautiful. 

And compared to your Vendée Globe campaign you have a much bigger team and a more demanding programme, how is that working out for you?
It is good. It has been a journey for all of us. We have had to learn a lot. I have really had to learn my place and my role, which is not – apparently – fiddling with my bits on my boat! (laughs). I just wait until everyone has gone home. Actually it is important still, it really important. That’s how I get my confidence, by taking things apart and fixing them. I need to have the confidence in my boat and that is why I sail and I sail and I sail. I need the confidence. And I need to know I can do it. That applies to everything on the boat. At the same time I cannot stand in the way of the team doing their jobs. And it is important to me and the team that we need to allow younger people to get the experience and knowledge. One of the things I am really proud of with our team is we have had no staff turnaround at all in two years. We have the same team. 

What are the pros and cons of being a British based team. You talked of moving to France at one point but have stayed at your home port of Poole?
It is hard. I am happy and proud to be a British team but it is hard. We have so many more talented British skipper now coming through. The people who are learning their skills in the UK are having to go elsewhere to progress with the bigger teams, because there is not so much interest in the UK. And the only way to make that change is by making ourselves available and being present in the UK. But it is hard. We miss out on so much. There was a load of stuff went on with mast mods – for example – and the first we heard was an e-mail that turned up. Had we been in Lorient with all the other teams we would have been all over that. We miss out a lot, we miss out on that collective body of knowledge. And day to day interactions with other teams. And I definitely miss out going sailing with other teams. But we now have some boats in the UK, Clarisse is in the UK and it is up to me now to make the effort. The alternative is to sail to Brittany and get involved training on the water there. It takes me 14 hours or so to get to Ushant so that is doable! 

And with all the changes you made to the boat, where are you on the learning/re-learning curve?
I think I have now got to the stage where I can manage the boat safely and how to make it go fast, but I am still missing that final 10 per cent. That is still the learning that needs to come. But the thing is, yes, there are a huge amount of learnings on this race and the Retour à la Base but in the nature of these races they are back-to-back, so it’s not going to be about pushing, the learnings on this race are very much about manageable, sustainable speed which is so important for the longer races. So this is more about building reliability in the boat and uncovering problems. Those are massively important in terms of how I progress my programmes, it has always been to get to safe, stable, reliable first and then build speed from there. 

You managed good results on the key IMOCA races last year, how do you feel about this race?
My definitions of success are that you cannot just look at the number, a result on the water and that is success. For us success is against other boats similar to us, that is Damian, Giancarlo, Benjamin in relation to that it is managing to get to the other side and dealing with the problems, getting a list of what we need to change. It is about recovering more data for me to put into my trim book, pilot settings. As ever my definition of success is also telling a really good story that my sponsors are proud of and people follow and promoting the sport to a wider audience in a way that is human and accessible. But I don’t want a bad result…I already had a devastatingly bad result in the Fastnet I have ticked that box and we are not going back there. All the things that happened we won’t be going back there, believe me. 

Transat Jacques Vabre Normandie Le Havre

And so why did you select Nick Bubb as co-skipper, what are his key attributes?
Nick has a good ocean racing pedigree, granted it is from a few years ago. That overall seamanship, that understanding is there. I wanted a British co-skipper reinforcing the British aspect. And we sailed around Britain and Ireland last year as part of a crew of four, he is strong, he has a great work ethic. Especially for someone like me who has fought my whole life to get where I am, when you put me in a team of men I tend to get pushed to one side. I wanted to have a mixed pair. A race like this lends itself to having a mixed pair. He has extra muscle, extra strength which enables us to do things quicker with more energy. And it is also making sure I am working with someone who is not going to overshadow me and allows me to do my thing and be skipper of my own boat. 

What are the main, important parts of this course?
Crossing the equator twice makes this a longer, different course. Longer is better. I think I do better in the longer courses. I hope this does not I did 2015 in Class40 in something like 26 days and that was a course which went on forever….so it is not going to be as long as that one (laughs).

The key stages are…getting out of here which it looks like we will get a good old bashing – which I think everyone is quite even in those conditions – but one of the benefits of the Fastnet as a qualifier was to have a good bashing and that gives us confidence. I have not encountered really with these current foils is really big seas. That is something to think about. Then crossing the Doldrums twice will be key. It will be a fun course and I do relish the chance to sail a new course. We do tend to follow the same route many times. 

And what about being part of this record sized fleet?
I think it is great, IMOCA is in its heyday at the moment. And in the fleet there are some absolutely amazing sailors, amazing boats. And here we are showing the world why we are absolutely at the top of what we do. And I am proud to be a part of that. But I am still in awe of the ‘big dogs’ in our fleet. 

Looking at what you have to complete over the period up to and including the Vendée Globe, how is your budget shaping up?
It is certainly very difficult. Medallia are fantastic and supportive but we lost two sponsors – through market conditions in their respective industries – and we really need to replace them. We have options, opportunities….

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